Mandy and Alex Kern knew they would face a lot of challenges in beginning the process of becoming foster/adoptive parents. But ultimately, they said they’d find no greater gift, other than each other, in their personal lives. And the painstaking process, they both agree, is something they’d do again, without a doubt.
First, there was the training — being available to complete the 36 hours of pre-service instruction, followed by multiple home visits and interviews with the assigned case worker.
“Your home has to be able to pass the safety audit and fire inspection,” Kern said. “The biggest challenge was for my husband, as his work schedule does not allow as much flexibility as mine does.
“The home study process took about eight months, and that timeline can vary. You have to be willing to be open and honest with yourself and your worker during the interviews.”
After being licensed, new challenges arise.
“It’s a waiting game,” Kern said. “You never know when you’re going to get that call.”
She also noted that foster parents don’t always know how long the children may be with them.
“Our situation was unique in the fact that our first daughter was placed with us knowing that she would be adopted,” Kern said. “We never had that fear of her leaving. Our second adopted child, Ian, was placed with us at 6 weeks (old) and we didn’t know if he would stay or be reunited with his family in the beginning.
“One of the unexpected challenges that I faced with him, and that other families will have to face, is the unanticipated feeling of loss for his family when his biological parents’ rights were terminated,” she added. “It was a difficult combination of emotions at that point of time. We were incredibly thankful that we were going to be able to adopt him, but our hearts hurt for him, too.”
Kern also said foster parents have to remember that not all forms of discipline work for every child.
“All four of our children came from very different yet equally traumatic backgrounds,” she said. “You have to be patient, consistent and accept that every child is different.
“In the end it’s completely worth it.”
Eugene Tetrick, supervisor of the Foster Care and Adoption Unit at Lake County Department of Job and Family Services, knows that need is also a factor in the adoptive process.
“Parenting children differently is another challenge which takes time to work through for both the children and their caregivers,” he said.
Tetrick said that applications to be licensed as a foster parent vary from year to year, depending on pre-service/introductory classes community members can attend to learn about foster care and adoption through the public welfare system.
“These classes provide information about caring for children who have experienced the trauma and neglect, and how that impacts the potential caregiving family,” he added. “Members can use these classes as an educational tool to either opt out of moving forward with licensure or to step forward to the next phase (of licensure), which is to complete an application to foster and/or adopt a child.”
In 2018, Lake County received 19 applications from community members to be licensed as foster/adoptive parents.
General requirements, as mandated by the state, include being 21 years of age, and completing a criminal background check and a physical, in addition to the lengthy interviewing process.
“When children enter into the care of the public child welfare system, our primary goal is reunification of that child with their birth parents and/or family,” Tetrick said. “As a rule, this agency works toward reunification for one year prior to making a decision about a child’s future.
“If a child is in the temporary custody of the county for 12 out of the past 22 months, this agency has to make a decision for that child,” he said. “Is reunification likely or should the agency seek permanent custody of the child where parental rights are legally severed by the court system and the child is now free for adoption?
“Once permanent custody of a child is awarded to the county, it is the county’s responsibility to find that child a ‘forever family.’ In most cases, children are adopted by their foster parents, who have dually licensed as adoptive parents as well.”
While the Kerns, who live in Saybrook Township in Ashtabula County, in fact discussed fostering and adopting children early in their relationship, Mandy said it wasn’t until she and Alex were married that it truly became a serious consideration.
And then she met Emilee.
Read the rest of the Kern’s story and their advice to new parents on The News-Herald.